A poor man's White Album

(or how I almost got killed during "Live & Let Die")

by Todd Baxter

Thanks to Todd for sending us this story.

CNN's Music Room had secured an interview with Paul McCartney in Moscow. Since I am known in the CNN London Bureau as THE BEATLES BRAIN and FAN, I was asked to go, to help out as a cameraman/producer- and since I lived in Moscow for four years that made me seem like the ideal person. Also I had missed out on helping them with their Beatles Anthology special because of the war in Iraq. I was pleased to be asked and very nervous, I would get the fantastic opportunity of seeing McCartney play "Back in the USSR" in Red Square and also get to meet him, and hopefully get his autograph and a photograph with me.

So, I went to Moscow- but we didn't get the McCartney interview- and I wouldn't have been in there if we had, and I didn't see McCartney play "Back in the USSR" on Red Square and I didn't get McCartney's autograph on the original copy of the White Album I bought on e-bay or a photograph of him.

But I still had the experience of a lifetime! Let me explain how that is possible (sorry, this is so long but wanted to tell the whole story)

I knew before I went to Moscow that I wouldn't be shooting the interview... McCartney was having his folks do that (why pick someone you don't know over someone who has been shooting you for the last year or so- makes sense to me)- so I thought I might not get in but was told by the Music Room producer that he would try to get me in.

On Saturday, we met up with McCartney's Publicist early in the morning and all looked well for the interview and they were giving us tickets to the concert--great!- So we went out to shoot various interviews and Stand-ups for The Music Room show .

At 5:30 pm, We went to shoot the McCartney Press conference- which meant we got to assemble in Red square at the tail end of McCartney's sound check (already a bonus!!). He was playing You Never Give Me Your Money when we turned up, but we could hear snippets of Honey Don't, Matchbox, and Let It Be. Immediately after the Presser they called the Music Room Producer and reporter over for the interview (as I had my camera gear with me there was NO WAY now I was going in... a little disappointment crept in then- but always knew it was a possiblity not to get in. So, I handed over my original copy of the White Album (with Serial number on it that I bought on ebay) to Neil the Main show producer and asked him to get it signed, and trudged out of Red Square.

At this point I had to go get a Video deck to record what was going to be 2 songs from the show, one being "Back in the USSR" and the other "Can't Buy Me Love". I knew that meant I would miss seeing "Back in the USSR" played live-- and would only hear it. (another dissapointment) "Back in The USSR" was about the middle to 2/3rds of the way into the concert so I might get stuck just listening to the majority of the concert.

At this point, I get a call from Neil who says the McCartney interview didn't happen because he was meeting with Gorbachev. They are told they will get one in Sheffield. So, no interview, no signatures, no meeting him.

So, I went backstage with the deck and we were allowed to plug in backstage to record the songs. One of the McCartney publicists said that once we got set up they would move us away because we were going to be right next to where the band walks up onto stage. But they didn't- and pretty soon McCartney all jazzed up about the concert walks up with his band about 10 feet from me as he goes onstage. (Very Cool! who needs to see the "Back in the US" DVD when you can see it in person!)

Once the concert started, I asked the publicist if I could watch from the side of the stage- who said "No, you have a ticket, so you can go on out!" Low and behold my ticket got me to the little penned off area right in front of the stage! I was about 20 feet from McCartney for the whole first half of the concert. It was awesome!! (I could see his fingering on the guitar, his facial expressions- even how many rings he had on!!) Some of the songs in the first half- Eleanor Rigby, I've Just Seen a Face, All My Loving, Blackbird, Michelle, his tribute to John Here Today- which He got a little choked up about and his playing Something on the ukelele in tribute to George.

I couldn't quite remember when he was going to do "Back in The USSR"- but I knew it was after the Acoustic set- So I just kept an eye out for when he put his Hofner Violin Bass back on. So, Once he put it back on, I started high tailing it back to the deck. As I was running back there I could hear him doing his new BBC commercial avant guarde open to Band on the Run... so I slowed down my pace to the deck. When I got to the decks I saw that all the other TV people were rolling (I seemed to be the only TV person back there with a ticket to the concert) So, I immediately started rolling. The publicist said "We decided you guys now get only "Band on the Run" and "Back in the USSR". Luckily I only missed the Avant guarde part of Band on the Run. In the end they had a problem with their feed to us and We only got only the beginning and the end of Band on the Run- So I talked them back into giving us Can't Buy Me Love as well.

So, we recorded Back in the USSR and it sounded awesome from backstage and looked great on the monitor. Then, all but one of the 17 news crews other than me left not wanting to stay for Can't Buy Me Love.... What are they thinking? Deadlines, I guess. So, I stayed for Can't Buy Me Love. During that song I started thinking- I have to take this deck and tape out of the concert and get it to our Moscow reporter who was doing a package that night- which meant I had to leave the concert. I was planning to call the bureau driver who was parked across the Moscow river, a 10 minute walk from Red Square at the hotel McCartney was staying, to come pick up the tape and deck and then I would go back into the concert. But then I thought- McCartney's only got about a half an hour, maybe 45 minutes left in the show. And I would doubt that he is going to leave the gig and immediately drive to the airport and leave at 11:30 at night for a 3 1/2 hour flight to London- I bet he is going to the hotel. So, I thought maybe I will just hang outside the hotel and see if he returns- chances are he will be in a good mood and sign some autographs. So, I decided to do that- but I didn't have anything for him to sign having given my White album to the Music Room producer. Just then I noticed a square piece of white cardboard sitting beside my deck -which sort of looked like one of those pieces of cardboard put inside folded shirts when they are drycleaned. This would have to be my poor man's White album for him to sign.

Can't Buy Me Love ended and Live and Let Die started up as I packed up the deck. I started walking around the back of the stage to leave just as this huge flashpot explodes not very far from where I am walking!! It was loud!!! I nearly had a heart attack- you would think however that I would have been smart enough to remember where the explosions happen- (having seen the conert twice at Earl's Court in London) but I wasn't and I didn't expect it to be that close! I also think they really packed it full so that Red Square really heard it! Anyways, I sort of stumble around the corner after that and one of the backstage crew says "what are you doing back there?".

"Recording the songs for news... and now I am leaving," I said.

He said, "Oh man, I am really sorry we should have warned you guys!" They kept people well away after that.

So, then I walk over the Moscow river- drop off the record deck and tape with the driver to send to the bureau- grab a sharpie marker from my backpack and head to the front of the hotel. At this point, I am the only fan there. So now I start thinking- when he comes out of the car, what can I say that would entice him or intrique him enough to come over to sign an autograph? Some other fans start gathering, now there are about 20. So I figure out, that if I shout out, "Paul! I am from Chicago... Can I get your autograph?" It just might work- thinking that McCartney wouldn't be expecting an American to be in the crowd and also seems like the last three tours of the states, he and his bands have always said that Chicago was their favorite spot in the tour. Now, more fans gather, we number about 30, I guess.

Then the Band's bus arrives- all the other band members come off. Doesn't matter to me, I am waiting for McCartney. Then McCartney comes off with Heather- they start to enter the glassed in entry way as I shout out, "Paul! I am from Chicago... Can I get your autograph?". He stops, whether it is because of me or not I will never know- He says something to Heather and then walks out of the entryway straight to me! (This is where my brain slightly disengages and I go into fan mode!)

"Paul, Can I get your autograph and a photo?" I say.

"No photos," he says, "but what can I sign?" Out comes the poor man's white album and sharpie. He signs it, and says, "I am going to keep the pen." (obviously so he can sign other autographs)

"Okay, by me.", I say. So, Paul kept my Sharpie. Then I realise everyone else behind me has me pinned against the barricade and McCartney is not moving down the line signing autographs, everyone is just passing them over my shoulder while he stands in front of me. So, I start talking to him and peppering him with questions. This is where my brain slightly disengaged because afterward I thought- why did I ask him those stupid questions?

"Your show tonight was great- I also saw you twice at Earl's court and also at the Tribute to George Harrison concert. " I said.

"Did you like them all?", Paul says.

"Yes, they were fantastic. When are we gonna get a new album?" (this question makes me cringe now that I think about it.)

"Got to record it first", he says. Then one of his security guards says, "If you already have your signature- can you please move back to let others in." Nice idea, but I am still pinned to the barricade by the crowd behind.

I asked McCartney a couple of other questions about things like when the new Let It Be will be released (DVD and stripped down version of the album). He answers something like, "later this year." Then one of his security guards says, "can you move back?" to me.

And I said, "no, I can't, I am stuck." After about a total of 5 minutes or so. He wraps up the signing and says goodnight and thank you to everyone and walks inside. I thought to myself, "why didn't I ask all those questions I have always wanted to ask him.".. Then I looked down at the Poor Man's White album and there was his signature and then it really didn't matter.

It was very cool, -He was very, very nice and He definitely doesn't look nearly 61. I think he actually looks better than he did 4 or 5 years ago.

I took my autographed white card and stuck my backstage TV pass on it- so eventually I will get it framed.

CNN Music Room got the interview in Sheffield it will run on their show this weekend. I didn't get to go- but I still have his autograph -- and I feel fine.